December 10, 2014 — ComicCon is an annual fan convention dedicated to comics, graphic novels, video games, toys, movies, and television—and it used to be my guilty pleasure until geeks and nerds took over pop culture and events like ComicCon went mainstream.
In the 15 years during which I’ve attended ComicCons in San Diego and New York, some things have changed. Unfortunately, others haven’t.
The size of the conventions has exploded. Many more people dress up in costumes, a.k.a. engage in Cosplay—a practice that was once widely mocked. But at this year’s ComicCon in New York, I couldn’t help but notice how much more diverse the audience was than the characters they were impersonating.
There are relatively few black characters in comics, so I noticed plenty of black fans dressing up as white characters like Batman and Robin. Despite a huge increase in female fans, there weren’t many female superheroes or villains to choose from, either. A fan favorite was Harley Quinn (The Joker’s main squeeze). These costumes were often donned against the unsettling backdrop of posters warning that “Cosplay Is Not Consent.” Then there was the Lego display, which featured figures ranging from $16 to $80 of every character you could imagine. However, when a little girl asked for Batgirl or Supergirl, she was told that they had sold out of their very limited stock of female characters just four hours into the first day—yet there were still 30 varieties of Captain America and Batman available.
I was angry on that girl’s behalf, but the oversight also struck a chord with me because Cartoon Network cancelled two of my own favorite animated series, Green Lantern and Young Justice, for having too many female fans. That wasn’t the official reason given, but writer-producer Paul Dini told Kevin Smith the real story on Smith’s podcast, Fatman on Batman. Smith responded with a wonderful profanity-laden rant excoriating TV execs who erroneously believe that (1) the only purpose of a show is to sell toys, (2) girls don’t buy toys, and (3) the only type of toys that sell are action figures.
But wait—it gets worse. By now we’ve all heard disturbing reports of women gamers and feminist video game critics who have been harassed and subjected to death threats. The comic book community has a similar problem. For instance, when journalist Janelle Asselin wrote an article for Comic Book Resources criticizing a sexualized drawing of Wonder Girl on a cover of Teen Titans, she faced a torrent of online rage.
The hostile climate that certain fans perpetuate explains why a group of female fans have founded GeekGirl, a women-centered convention just for women and girls. Last month’s GeekGirl included such panels as, (Not So) Strange Appetites: Women and the Horror Fandom, Foam Fight Like A Girl, and The Heroine’s Journey: Moving Beyond [Joseph] Campbell’s Monomyth.
Hopefully some day, women will no longer need a conference of their own to feel safe and equal in the world of ComicCon.